Originally part of the Utah territory established by Congress in 1850, Nevada quickly boomed upon the discovery of gold and silver in the Comstock Lode, which lured thousands of miners and prospectors to the territory. In 1861, just as America descended into the Civil War, Nevada separated from the Utah territory and adopted its current name, derived from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. On October 31st, 1864, just days before the presidential election, Nevada became the 36th state in the Union. The reason for rushing this thinly populated and barren land into statehood was to help ensure Abraham Lincoln's reelection bid, as Nevada was at that time more connected to the industrialized north due to its silver lodes. Nicknamed 'The Silver State', Nevada is home to some of the largest tracts of U.S. federal land, a great majority of which is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. The interior of Nevada, with its high arid desert, marks some of the most desolate places in the U.S. Time-Life magazine once called U.S. State Highway 50 'the loneliest road in America'.
Nevada has the fastest growing population in the United States, led largely by booming Las Vegas, a city twice as large as any other in the state, and itself one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. Other urban areas include Reno-Sparks, and the capital Carson City. Lake Tahoe, on the border with California, is a popular tourist destination for skiing and watersports. The fast growing population of Hispanic or Latino makes up nearly 20% of the population. Nevada's Harry Reid is Democratic Senate Minority Leader, and there are 3 Nevada seats in the House of Representatives. The 5 electoral votes for Nevada are often closely contested, with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each winning the state twice. The sheer size of more liberal Las Vegas is often just enough to balance the scales in an otherwise conservative state.